Counter-insurgency is so 2007. Everybody knows that Republicans and Democrats have quietly agreed that flooding some dusty foreign land with U.S. troops is too expensive, and we can’t stomach the casualties any longer.
All the cool kids are into counter-terrorism now. (Note to think tanks: It’s no longer hip to tell reporters things like, “We can’t kill our way to victory.”) Instead we are going to leave small bases of elite troops in Afghanistan to carry out targeted raids aimed at isolated bad guys, and kill our way to victory. It’s cheap. And it sounds so clean. We won’t bother with the whole country, our super-secret guys will put on their ninja suits and take out the bad guys one by one.
But it turns out there is no free lunch. The Open Society Foundations and the Liason Office, an Afghan NGO, have a new report on these counter-terrorism raids, which are mostly conducted at night. “The Cost of Kill/Capture” solidly reports that for some strange reason, people don’t like it when you kick in their doors in the middle of the night and point guns at them, particularly if they haven’t done anything wrong.
The increasing number of raids is stunning. By late 2010, NATO stats showed night raids had increased to 20 raids every night. The latest data suggests that number is now probably more like 40. Not surprisingly, “The escalation in raids had taken the battlefield more directly into Afghan homes, sparking tremendous backlash among the Afghan population,” the report says.
The report dutifully chronicles a series of military initiatives to improve the accuracy of night raids. But the groups’ 77 interviews with Afghans in 8 provinces across Afghanistan shows the U.S. has some splaining to do. It notes that raids have resulted in the deaths of innocent civilians, including a 12-year-old girl.
The report also documents the troubling practice of nighttime cordon-and-search operations of entire villages. In one case, 80 to 100 men were tied up in a mosque for 19 hours as U.S. forces questioned some of the men.
I’m not sure why anybody would object to that.